Sarbox Costs, Board Independence Rise

Nearly half of the large companies surveyed said they are spending more than $10 million to document their internal controls, certify their financials, and comply with other provisions of Sarbanes-Oxley.

The nation’s largest companies have found that Sarbanes-Oxley compliance costs have surged in the past year, according to a new survey from the Business Roundtable.

Of the 106 member companies that responded to the survey, 47 percent said they are spending more than $10 million to document their internal controls, certify their financials, and comply with other provisions of Sarbanes-Oxley, compared with just 22 percent in last year’s poll. Another 29 percent estimated their costs at between $6 million and $10 million.

Those figures are in keeping with a doubling in audit fees revealed by a recent study by the Corporate Executive Board, a consultancy.

The survey also reports a number of interesting developments among the boards of directors of the Roundtable’s member companies, which tend to be among the nation’s largest. Nearly 82 percent of respondents said their boards are at least 80 percent independent; 96 percent reported that their boards are at least 60 percent independent. These levels exceed the new listing requirements of the New York Stock Exchange and the Nasdaq Stock Market, which call for a simple majority of independent directors.

In addition, 83 percent of surveyed companies have an independent chairman, lead director, or presiding director, 12 percentage points higher than last year.

“This survey appears to show that corporate America takes seriously the corporate governance changes imposed by Sarbanes-Oxley,” said SEC Commissioner Roel C. Campos, in a statement.

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